325Bishop asking that church's same-sex union prohibition be dropped
- Oct 6, 1999Bishop asking that church's same-sex union prohibition be dropped
Oct. 5, 1999 News media contact: Thomas S..
NOTE: A photo of Bishop Jack M. Tuell and a General Conference logo are
available for use with this story..
By United Methodist News Service
United Methodist Bishop Jack Tuell is petitioning the church's top
legislative body to remove a statement from the Social Principles
prohibiting United Methodist clergy from presiding over same-sex unions or
having such ceremonies in the denomination's churches.
"I believe United Methodist ministers who are appointed to a variety of
situations should have the right to determine the spiritual and pastoral
needs of people whom they serve," Tuell told United Methodist News Service.
At the same time, he is proposing a new statement in the Social Principles
that would reiterate the United Methodist position that marriage is a sacred
union between two people of the opposite sex. He also supports limiting the
terms "marriage" and "wedding" to the traditional understandings. The Social
Principles are contained in the denomination's Book of Discipline..
Tuell, a former attorney, presided over a high-profile church trial in March
in which the Rev. Gregory Dell of Chicago became the first clergyman
convicted of disobeying the order and discipline of the church for
performing a union ceremony for two men. Dell's conviction was later upheld
by a North Central Jurisdiction appeals committee, but his suspension was
adjusted to about one year -- July 5, 1999, to June 30, 2000. Dell was
elected a delegate to the May 2-12 General Conference in Cleveland by his
Northern Illinois Annual (regional) Conference, but he will be unable to
serve because of his suspension..
Delegates to the most recent General Conference in 1996 added to the
church's Social Principles (Paragraph 65C) the sentence, "Ceremonies that
celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and
shall not be conducted in our churches."
"I am a strong believer in observing and carrying out the law of the church
as it is accepted by the General Conference, whether I personally agree with
it or not," said the retired bishop, who resides in Des Moines, Wash. "But
if United Methodists believe some part of our Book of Discipline should be
changed, they should express their opinions to the elected representatives
who write it. I exercised that right by writing a private letter strictly on
my own to about 60 delegates."
He expressed concern that a version of his letter distributed on the
Internet contained an error. The word "not" was deleted from a sentence
that said: "It is not primarily on whether you are for or against changing
the present general position of the United Methodist Church regarding
Tuell emphasized that his petition is not suggesting that the only response
of a clergy person would be to conduct a same-sex union if asked. Recalling
the Dell trial, he said one of the partners in the same-sex service was
asked in cross-examination by the counsel for the church what he would have
done if Dell had declined to perform the service.
"He said he would have respected that," Tuell said. "I think ministers in
these situations may have a variety of responses. My point is that I believe
the clergy need the freedom to weigh the situation and make a decision based
on their ordination vows as a man or woman of God."
Tuell has presided over seven clergy trials during his career as bishop. In
his letter to the delegates, he said: "After two long days of presiding over
Rev. Dell's trial last March, I was totally convinced that the legislation
of 1996 was not good legislation and should be changed by the 2000 General
He then listed seven reasons and concluded: "I truly believe that the
continuance of the 1996 legislation can have nothing but a destructive and
divisive effect across the connection, as well-publicized trials are held
with varying and illogical results. United Methodism does not need this."
Tuell's reasons for requesting a change are:
1 "It is not fair to our clergy..
2 "The 1996 legislation was passed among much confusion and warning
that the Social Principles was not the right place for such flatly
3 "The legislation is unnecessary. We got along quite well for 212
years (1784-1996) without it..
4 "The administration of such a prohibition is bound to be uneven,
varying with the mores and views of different sections of the church..
5 "The provisions of Paragraph 65C are likely to hit some of our most
able, conscientious clergy the hardest..
6 "The issue in this matter has to do with the freedom and integrity
of our clergy to carry out their ministry in the place where they are
7 "United Methodists want their church to be one which upholds the
centrality and uniqueness of marriage between a man and woman. The 2000
General Conference ought to reaffirm this in appropriate ways."
# # #
NOTE: The full text of Bishop Tuell's letter follows:
To: Lay and Clergy Delegates to the 2000 General Conference
From: Bishop Jack M. Tuell (retired)
First, let me congratulate you on your election to the General Conference of
The United Methodist Church. This is a high honor, and a position of
tremendous responsibility. I will be praying for you as we move toward
Cleveland next May..
I am taking the rather unusual step of writing this letter because some
experiences I had this spring made me realize that some legislation enacted
at the 1996 General Conference is placing some of our clergy in a truly
unfair dilemma. The experience I refer to was presiding over the church
trial of the Rev. Gregory Dell -- the legislation under which he was tried
was an action of the 1996 General Conference adding this sentence to Par.
65C of the Social Principles: "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions
shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our
churches." (Page 87, 1996 Book of Discipline.)
After two long days of presiding over Rev. Dell's trial last March, I was
totally convinced that the legislation of 1996 was not good legislation and
should be changed by the 2000 General Conference. Here are some of my
1. It is not fair to our clergy. We send them by appointment into
communities and congregations which may be made up of 30%-50% gay and
lesbian persons; we tell them to care for and minister to all of the people
in their charge. Their people (including gays and lesbians) come to them
with prayers and blessings of already existing relationships. We have always
placed great confidence and trust in our clergy to respond to such spiritual
needs as their consciences and ordination vows indicate. But the 1996
legislation violates the precious freedom which we have always believed our
clergy to possess as "men and women of God," and subjects them to being
"defrocked" for their conscientious adherence to their high calling. This is
wrong, and should be corrected..
2. The 1996 legislation was passed among much confusion and warning that the
Social Principles was not the right place for such flatly prohibitory
legislation. While it was approved by a vote of 553-321 on Thursday evening
(DCA, p. 780), less than half an hour later the General Conference
non-concurred in a petition to specifically make "leadership in a same-sex
service" a chargeable offense by a vote of 740 for non-concurrence! (DCA, p.
783). Yet the effect of the legislation which was passed turned out to be
exactly the same as the measure rejected by the Conference by 740 votes! It
seems obvious that many delegates thought they were voting for something
other than adding a chargeable offense when they approved Par. 65C.
3. The legislation is unnecessary. We got along quite well for 212 years
(1784-1996) without it. And a conference which really wished to put a
minister on trial for such an action could do so under already existing
"chargeable offenses" listed in the Discipline. But history has shown us
that trying to prohibit specific behaviors by disciplinary edict does not
work well. (Alcohol, tobacco, etc.)
4. The administration of such a prohibition (Par. 65C) is bound to be
uneven, varying with the mores and views of different sections of the
5. The provisions of Par. 65C are likely to hit some of our most able,
conscientious clergy the hardest. The 13 elders on the Trial Court in the
Gregory Dell case, even though they quite appropriately found him guilty,
made a separate statement affirming his outstanding ministry of 30 years. We
cannot afford to lose men and women of this caliber.
6. The issue in this matter has to do with the freedom and integrity of our
clergy to carry out their ministry in the place where they are appointed. It
is not primarily on whether you are for or against changing the present
general position of the UMC regarding homosexuality. Persons on either side
of this larger issue should see the unfairness and injustice of sending our
ministers out to serve all the people and then throwing them out when they
try to do so.
7. UMs want their church to be one which upholds the centrality and
uniqueness of marriage between a man and a woman. The 2000 General
Conference ought to re-affirm this in appropriate ways. But it should repeal
the last sentence of Par. 65C which unfairly puts an impossible burden on
our clergy doing their best to minister to the spiritual and pastoral needs
of the people committed to their care..
I truly believe that the continuance of the 1996 legislation can have
nothing but a destructive and divisive effect across the connection, as
well-publicized trials are held with varying and illogical results. United
Methodism does not need this.
Jack M. Tuell
The United Methodist Church
816 South 216th Street
Des Moines, WA 98198
# # #
United Methodist News Service